2022 Draft-Eligible Players to Watch at IIHF U18 World Championship

The World U18 Hockey Championship will start on Saturday as eight teams look to try and take home the gold medal. Canada had a dominant performance last season with a stacked roster that included potential first overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, Shane Wright.

Related: THW 2022 NHL Draft Guide

While he’s not at the tournament this year, there are still plenty of names in the upcoming draft that fans should be keeping an eye on when the tournament starts. Here is one player per team you should be keeping a close watch on at the World U18 Championship.

Canada- David Goyette (C)

Let’s face it, much of the attention is going to be on 2023 top prospects Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli. Behind those two names, expect David Goyette to be a name that can be a factor offensively for Team Canada.

David Goyette of the Sudbury Wolves
David Goyette of the Sudbury Wolves (Photo by Robert Lefebvre /OHL Images)

Goyette led Ontario Hockey League rookies in goals (33) and points (73) while finishing second in assists with 40. Among draft year players in the OHL, he has the third best primary point per game (P1/GP) with 0.86 and primary points total with 57, behind only Shane Wright and Luca Del Bel Belluz. Of those 57 points, 45 were at even strength as he has the second-best even strength primary points per game (EV P1/GP) with 0.68. 

Goyette can do a lot of damage as he’s an effective playmaker and goal scoring dynamo, constantly making things happen when he has the puck. The combination of his skating and puck handling skills instantly make him an offensive threat every shift. He shows great poise and is able to make moves at a very quick pace. While his defensive game and decision-making needs to be worked on, the skillset and talent is there. 

Goyette gives Canada great depth within their top nine. He can either lead the third line as the centre or can even be used in a top-six role as a winger. No matter where he is in the lineup, the high-octane offense that he brings is going to benefit Canada.

Other notable names: Rieger Lorenz (C), Nicholas Moldenhauer (C/RW), Owen Pickering (D), Spencer Sova (D)

Czechia- Jiri Kulich (C)

If there’s anyone fans should be excited to see it’s centreman Jiri Kulich. Already playing against men in the Czechia league, Kulich doesn’t look out of place as he’s able to keep up with the pace of the game at the senior level. The points aren’t there as he has 14 in 49 games, but there’s a lot of potential in his game. With him at the U18 Championship, fans will understand why.

Jiri Kulich Team Czechia
Jiri Kulich, Team Czechia (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Kulich plays a very responsible 200-foot game with high end IQ as he’s always reading the play effectively as it unfolds. He excels in finding the open ice with his speed to carry out an attack, lead in transition and has the vision to locate his teammates for a perfect passing play. He has quick hands to turn defenders inside out and get out of tough situations.

The intensity and energy that Kulich plays with is always on display as you’re always drawn to him whenever he’s on the ice. Expect him to turn some heads and gain more fans with this tournament.

Other notable names: Tomas Hamara (D), Matyas Sapovaliv (C), Jan Spunar (G)

Finland- Joakim Kemell (RW)

Joakim Kemell had a blazing hot start to his draft season as he was on a torrid scoring pace. The sharp shooter dealt with an injury that forced him to miss four weeks and had some trouble getting back to his early season dominance. This time around, expect that shot to be on display as Kemell will be leading the offense for Finland. 

Joakim Kemell JYP
Joakim Kemell, JYP (Photo: Jiri Halttunen)

Kemell plays with a high level of compete and energy and possesses that shoot first mentality. He has great accuracy and power in his quick release and is capable of always finding the open areas on the ice for him to get that perfect scoring opportunity. He’s always battling to gain control of the puck and he won’t stop until he does.

Other notable names: Topias Leinonen (G) Kasper Kulonummi (D), Aleksanteri Kaskimäki (C), Jani Nyman (LW)

Germany- Julian Lutz (LW)

Julian Lutz was projected to be a possible first-round pick this year. However, he has yet to see any games as he’s been battling with injuries all season. This alone has put a damper on his draft stock as he didn’t return until February, recording three points in 14 games. The good news is, if Lutz has a strong tournament for Germany, expect his stock to rise up to at least make up some of the ground that was lost. 

Lutz is a big-bodied forward with a great stride that likes to get in the face of the opposition and force them to make a mistake and create a turnover. He has great mobility and is effective at protecting the puck given the size and strength that he possesses. He has a decent shot and puck handling skills that allows him to succeed in puck battles and take it to the high danger area. 

Lutz is a fun player to watch and if he’s able to get back to where he was before his injury with this tournament, then he’ll make a team very happy.

Other notable names: Moritz Elias (F), Luca Hauf (RW/C), Niklas Hübner (D), Ralf Rollinger (F)

Latvia- Sandis Vilmanis (RW)

Latvia is definitely going to be in a tough position to make any noise at the tournament, but they have the play of Sandis Vilmanis at their disposal.

At 18 years old, Vilmanis has a solid season in the J20 Nationell with Luleå HF posting 18 goals and 32 points in 40 games. Ranked 70th among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting, he displays great patience and offensive instincts, combining that with his impressive speed and hands. He has great size and strength to protect the puck and fend off defenders and power through attacking the net.

Vilmanis was on last year’s Latvian team that put up a strong effort against a dominant Team Canada, losing 4-2 in the process and scored a pretty impressive goal. Having his presence around a second time is definitely going to help Latvia out.

Other notable names: Dans Locmelis (F)

Sweden- The Djurgårdens IF Quartet

This was extremely difficult to try and pick just one player. In short, Sweden is stacked, both in 2022 talent and 2023 talent like Theo Lindstein, Otto Stenberg and Leo Carlsson. But Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Liam Öhgren, Noah Östlund and Calle Odelius of the Djurgårdens IF system are going to dominate the tournament. 

This group is an exciting blend of everything. You have a prolific sharpshooter in Lekkerimäki, a smart playmaker in Östlund, an energetic and consistent threat in Öhgren and a two-way mobile blueliner in Odelius. You can understand why it would be hard to just pick one with the amount of talent coming out of that system. 

Although, if there’s been one surprise it’s been the consistent and dominating production of Öhgren. He had 33 goals and 58 points in 30 games in the J20 Nationell, while having the best  P1/GP of all draft eligible players with a 1.67 and EV P1/GP of 1.47. He shows strong offensive vision and great persistence when in the offensive zone with his work ethic. He struggled to produce in the SHL with two points in 25 games, but the upside and promise is there.

Sweden is extremely deep on paper, but the play from the Djurgårdens IF stars are definitely going to be leading the way for Sweden.

Other notable names: Fabian Wagner (RW), Filip Bystedt (C), Mattias Hävelid (D)

Switzerland- Noah Greuter (LW)

Initially, this spot would’ve gone to the hulking two-way defender Lian Bichsel. Unfortunately, he’s unable to attend due to an injury. Without a potential first or early second-round pick anchoring the blueline, the Swiss will have a difficult tournament. 

Noah Greuter would probably be the next player to keep an eye on with Bichsel’s absence. He has great size (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) and he definitely uses that to his advantage. He does a great job to protect the puck and separate his opponents to regain control. He has good speed through the neutral zone and is noticeable in the offensive zone as he does a great job of reading the ice. There’s a good chance that the offense will be going through him if he’s on the ice.

Other notable names: Yann Voegeli (D), Mattheo Reinhard (C)

United States- Frank Nazar (C/RW)

At first, I was going to say all of them. Similar to Sweden, it’s tough to try and pick one name. While Team USA boasts amazing depth with Logan Cooley being the top American in the draft, Frank Nazar should be one name that will carry the offensive load. 

Based on his skillset and ability to be an offensive dynamo alone, Nazar should be the next American taken after Cooley in the draft. He’s got excellent speed and hands as he’s an extremely shifty and creative player when he has control of the puck. He’s the kind of player that makes you get out of your seat because of his high-end and exciting style of play. He has the fourth best P1/GP in this draft class with 1.25, showing that he’s always creating and finishing off plays.

Get ready for the Nazar show, because you do not want to miss it.

Other notable names: Rutger McGroarty (C), Cutter Gauthier (LW), Seamus Casey (D), Isaac Howard (LW), Ryan Chesley (D), Jimmy Snuggerud (RW)

Statistics from Pick224, Elite Prospects and OHL.

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